Recent data from the Bookseller Association reveals that after 20 years of decline, the number of independent bookstores is on the rise again. In 1995 there were 1,894 independent bookstores in the UK and Ireland, but by 2016, only 867 remained. As of 2018, there are 883 independent bookstores in the UK and Ireland, 15 of which were added this past year.
In an interview, Daniel Ross, who opened Storysmith with his wife in October of 2018, said: “Independent bookshops are important because we’re a refuge, and we’re dead against everything becoming the same.” He explained that he and his wife had decided to open the store because of their strongly held belief that bookselling fosters a community and inspires “a lifelong love of reading.”
The store was warmly welcomed with many people coming in and telling them it was exactly what the area needed. Ross and Emily commented that the community “put their money where their mouth was” and Storysmith enjoyed outstanding sales around the holidays.
Storysmith is not alone in this success; another BA survey showed that 63.5% of booksellers reported that customer numbers rose during Christmas of 2018 compared with 2017.
Sarah Brook who left her corporate job to open BrOOK’s in Pinner, Middlesex, says “Indies are important because they choose their stock which can adapt to the local community. They offer a personal service and treat each customer as an individual.”
Amanda Davidge, the owner of Lost in Books agreed, saying “I think there is a definite desire by locals to support local businesses as a reaction to the big online suppliers. We have to work hard to make sure we can now keep the momentum going… I think it is important to keep small town communities alive by providing shops that locals want and also a hub for people to meet and to encourage reading.”
Most of UK’s newest independent bookstore owners were not originally booksellers but picked up the trade because they saw a need in certain areas. Sarah Brook, previously in HR, said this had always been her dream. Elaine Sperber of The Bookmark in Stockbridge High Street in Hampshire was shocked that there wasn’t and never had been a bookshop in Hampshire. She said, “Since we’ve been there, so many customers from near and far have said how happy they are to have a small, curated, independent place where they can chat, browse and buy.”
The managing director of the BA, Meryl Halls proclaimed that “it’s extremely encouraging to see independent bookshops succeeding in 2018, demonstrating the creativity and entrepreneurship of booksellers in the face of difficult challenges”.
However, Halls made it undeniably clear that booksellers are still facing many challenges. Just last year, the BA advocated for the independent bookstore Waterstones, located in Bedford, which pays 16 times more in business rates than the nearby Amazon distribution center. Challenges also include competition from online retailers and uncertainty caused by Brexit. Halls called on the government to “take the steps needed to protect the future of bookshops and their high streets, considering the concerns of retailers and booksellers so they can both flourish.”
Other reports show that the growth of independent bookstores is not limited to the UK only. Paper book sales are also on the rise in the US for the second year in a row as well as in some other countries.
Featured photo: The Essex County Environmental Group Runs This Bookstore in Rockport 02/1973 by Deborah Parks
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